My grandson slept for three hours in my lap yesterday afternoon. Slept my legs into their own nap. Slept through phones ringing, dogs barking, and the afternoon sun waning. Wrapped snugly in his swaddling cloth, he might have been another era’s baby, proof against technologies and innovations.
One woman, an infant, a cloth. Nothing luxurious, unless you count the intangibles. Full belly. Safety. Love. Cool air on a very hot day. Something so few babies in our world have.
My son says I am not allowed to tell depressing stories to point out how grateful we all should be. Okaaaaay! But I am grateful. And I’m grateful that my grandson slept for three hours, unbroken by the grievances of most of the world’s infants. He isn’t a victim of mosquitoes bearing diseases, or water bearing bacteria. His limbs are straight. His head is only heavy with sleep. He has two parents, both with jobs and health care benefits. He has four living grandparents, each besotted with him. His mother is kind, generous, intelligent, and adores him. His father isn’t off fighting a war, but right here to hold him. The world’s best baby-sitter.
And this specific grandmother is the most grateful of women. For the privileges a first-world household & family offer her first grandchild.
Today, as you go about your day, look around. You don’t have to think of third-world tragedies. But a ‘thank-you’ for running water (hot AND cold!), air conditioning, safe food (and enough of it!), a roof, and reasonably clean sheets… I”m just sayin’ ~ Life is good. And worth noticing.
Most religions have a version of the Golden Rule: love others as you love yourself. Treat others as you would be treated. Do unto others as you would be done by. Here’s the catch: It means ZIP if you don’t love yourself. Respect yourself. Treat yourself with kindness.
And another ‘secret’: most of us DON’T treat ourselves as we would a friend. We say mean things to ourselves (you are SO fat! how STUPID are you?? what were you THINKING??). Hurtful things we would never utter to a friend. Maybe not even to someone we didn’t like!
One of the (many) reasons I think of myself as a Unitarian Universalist is that Universalists believe NO ONE goes to hell. Not even… Hitler! Because if people can forgive (and in this case? Think of Sister Prejean — Dead Man Walking — for an example of saintly forgiveness), surely an omnipotent One is capable of even more. Of maybe even wiping clean the evil and beginning w/ a clean heart. Who knows?
I have no idea what went on in Hitler’s mind, or what goes on in the mind of a man who would pull a pink headband off the head of a 2-year-old boy, and swear at the boy and his mother. A minor evil, certainly, compared to the evil overlord, but still evil. But I can forgive a man so threatened by homophobia that he takes it out on a toddler, even as I wonder what the heck is wrong with him.
But can I forgive myself the many times I’m unkind? The many days I’m tired and cranky, and snap at my damn-near-perfect husband? How about times I explode at politicians, and ersatz religious leaders who advocate hate & hostilities? Because if I can’t forgive myself for these infractions, as a friend told me recently: they will work themselves inside you, and you will see them everywhere.
Since I DO — waaay too often! — I am resolved again to work harder. Be it resolved: I will treat myself more kindly.
That does NOT mean I will lower my standards, however. Just that I won’t beat myself when I (inevitably!) fail ~
But sometimes I’m the one who forgets to be respectful. Right now, I’m seething over the Texas state school board’s decision to load the textbook committee with creationists. Which means — since Texas has a huge textbook market, and drives the output of many textbook publishers — that evolution may have a hard time in upcoming science (& other) textbooks.
I’m breathing sloooowly, inhaling my anger at what this will do to the futures of an entire state’s children. Exhaling balance, since I don’t see this as a peace-maker possibility. When people have strong faith, they are not (usually) willing to discuss. Much less compromise. At least here in Oklahoma, ‘discussing’ evolution vs. creationism means I want you to agree with me. And as I confessed, I’m often one of the guiltiest…
It’s hard for me to understand how people can believe the earth is only 10,000 years old. And yes, I realise that creationists believe in a literal reading of Genesis. But not one of the creationists I know reads the REST of the Old Testament literally. The women don’t wear long hair. The families don’t keep kosher. And all the other ‘laws’ of the Old Testament we have (rightfully) decided don’t belong in the 21st century.
What happens to faith if we believe in metaphor? Because if we don’t, sooo much of science is problematic. Which may account for why only about 1/3 of scientists believe in God. But that’s a misleading number: more than half (51%) believe in God/ a universal spirit/ a higher power. That’s not bad, given that scientists aren’t much on ‘faith,’ but want ‘evidence.’ 🙂
I do believe in something. But I don’t name it. And I don’t quantify it. Nor do I think whatever is behind everything — Buddha nature? — is, ultimately, ‘know-able.’ I’m a human speck, for cryin’ out loud! How on earth — or in heaven — can I expect to understand what made everything that was/ is/ shall be possible??
But you know what? I’m okay with that. I just wish I could articulate it — politely — in a way that convinced folks I know what I think. Because I’m really not interested in changing. Any more than they are! 🙂
I’m fairly certain that my son’s violin was the reason he stayed in school. That and orchestra. Oh, and photography, later. And maybe the Simpsons Club, during free period. In other words, not academics.
Not English, per se, nor science nor math nor history (although he liked history, and turned me on to Jared Diamond, whom he read in class). But he probably has his high school diploma — and not a drop-out’s lack of future — because the arts kept him interested & engaged.
Me? Books saved my life. Writings by a French Algerian Jewess, who helped me see that being outside sometimes gave one the best perspective… A novel by a Belgian lesbian, writing about how homophobia shaped her middle years. Women you would think I have little in common with. And not all of it ‘art’; some of it is better classified as humanities, for the entymology of Fabre, or the aeronautics of Beryl Markham.
Just yesterday someone asked me for texts on Buddhism — beginning overviews, introductions. One of my favourites is Robert Hass‘s The Essential Haiku. A collection of haiku by famous Buddhist masters — Bashō, Buson, and Issa — the anthology is an immersion course in Zen mind. Better than any textbook I could recommend. That’s another thing the arts do — immerse you in an experience.
Music is the best example of a sea change. There is music I can listen to, if I’m blue, and the haze over my world lifts. My internal weather clears, and I can breathe again. Other music is perfect to grieve to. And of course don’t forget time travel. What takes you backwards like a song from some important period of your life?
So when I hear that the U.S. House is voting to cut funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities, I think of what the Oklahoma Humanities Council does to bring the arts & humanities to rural Okies. Its Museum on Main Street program, for instance, or Roots Music. Our state is a poor state, and without federal partner money — provided through the OHC — small rural Oklahoma communities couldn’t afford for the Smithsonian to bring an exhibit to towns you’ve never heard of.
And yet the talk in the Capitol is that this is an elitist program, funded for intellectuals. Or pointy-heads, as we often call them. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
In April OHC monies paid for books for the women attending a Women in Recovery program in Tulsa. These are women w/ very little education, too often. Many don’t have high school diplomas, and are working towards their GEDs. They have drug problems, but are working hard to re-enter the ‘outside’ as women with skills, who can pay taxes. We met to talk autobiography. A partnership among Women in Recovery and the OHC (using NEH $$) and the George Kaiser Foundation provides books given to the women in the program, and a facilitator is invited to the centre for an evening of dinner and conversation. In this way, women who are rarely ‘insiders’ in the best sense of the word join a state-wide conversation, ‘Let’s Talk About It, Oklahoma,’ the read & discuss program.
While I doubt that any of the women in the class underwent a profound change (staying in school, or reevaluating their lives) as a result of reading the book or the subsequent conversation, I do think that every book we read enters into us. And every experience with the art enriches – enlarges — our lives.
The arts & humanities are an integral part of beginner’s heart. Really. Each encounter with beauty, with learning, grows us. And everyone in America — not only those in large cities, or with money — deserves to have access to them both. Next time someone parrots the bogus info that the NEH is just for rich people with weird tastes, tell them about the importance of a violin and orchestra class for a high school boy. Or the necessity of music funding in a small town in Oklahoma. The impact of discussions on medicine in a hospital. Isn’t it a better use of our $$ than another leaky pipeline? 🙂